This exciting new double album from The Nash Ensemble presents an enchanting programme of chamber music by Camille Saint-Saëns, that quintessential figure of nineteenth-century French music-making.
At the heart of the set come the Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet, composed in 1875 and 1855, respectively. The quintet exudes a youthful confidence and swagger, the piano part leading the way, while the quartet quickly established itself as a staple of the repertory. Saint-Saëns was a passionnate promoter of his own music – being all too aware that the name of a contemporary composer on a concert bill represented the kiss of death – and brought about many performances of his own works (and those of his contemporaries, establishing the Société Nationale de Musique in 1871 for this purpose). One result of this passion for which we must be especially grateful was that Saint-Saëns frequently wrote for the ‘forces available’, and this set opens with a rare septet for trumpet, string quintet and piano (the result of a playful commission from a chamber music society known as ‘La Trompette’), a jaunty work embracing seventeenth-century dance forms within a neoclassical style (perhaps fortunately, the composer appears never to have fulfilled his original promise to the society to compose a piece for guitar and thirteen trombones).
In the last year of his life Saint-Saëns set out to compose sonatas for each of the main woodwind instruments and piano. Those for cor anglais and flute were never written, but the sonatas for oboe, bassoon and clarinet here join with a tarantella (for flute, clarinet and piano) and a caprice (delightfully combining Danish and Russian themes and the sonorities of flute, oboe, clarinet and piano) to conclude the programme.